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On October 4, 2018, a coalition of defense trial lawyers, firms and organizations called “Lawyers for Civil Justice” published a report and website called Rules4MDLs. The campaign works to prove a point that many of the present Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (which govern all civil actions and proceedings in the United States district courts) should not apply to multi-district litigations (MDLs), arguing that the FRCP was never intended for those proceedings. Rules4MDLs is pushing for changes to the ways in which MDLs are handled by the federal judiciary.

What Do They Want Changed?

Rules4MDLs argue that many judges must improvise in MDL cases, because the FRCP does not provide practical and clear procedures for MDLs. Although the FRCP is meant to provide “clarity, uniformity and predictability” in civil cases, the campaign claims that many common MDL practices cause an unbalanced litigation environment by failing to provide protections under the FRCP.

The group is promoting six changes. A Reuters article breaks down the rules as follows:

  1. Require MDL plaintiffs to disclose evidence of the injury and its cause early in litigation
  2. Allow defendants mid-case appellate review of trial court rulings that cut across the litigation, like preemption and the validity of scientific evidence
  3. Bar judges from ordering bellwether trials without a defendant’s’ consent
  4. Require disclosure of third-party sources of plaintiff funding
  5. Close a loophole in joinder rules
  6. Tighten pleading standards to ward off meritless claims and permit defendants to move to dismiss consolidated master complaints

The campaign’s website argues that the changes would “… address the ‘repeat player’ problem in MDL cases, which exists because only a small, exclusive group of people knows how the game is played.”

In reality, if Rules4MDLs gets its way, the proposed changes to the FRCP would make it more difficult for injured parties to successfully sue a big defendant. Large corporations, with their bottomless resources and top-notch defense attorneys, already have the upper hand against individuals who get hurt by using their products. Consolidated legal actions like MDLs are a way injured people can get organized together and seek justice as one powerful group. By changing the rules in favor of the defense, injured people will have more obstacles to obtain justice.

Protecting Americans’ Right to Sue Negligent Companies

The next Rules Committee meeting is in early November. In the meantime, people are urged to voice their opinion regarding the future of MDL procedures. Attorneys should submit comments during the comment period and consider testifying at the public hearings in Phoenix, AZ on January 4 and in Washington, DC on February 8. To learn more and to find out how you can help protect plaintiffs’ rights, contact Sue Steinman at susan.steinman@justice.org.

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